Meet my teachers, Steve Pitts (left) and Jun Villegas. They've been instructors for the ATV Safety Institute (ASI) for 11 years, and riding for 25. Steve's a firefighter in Atlanta, and Jun's a California native who's wife introduced him to ATVs. They're two of the 2,400 ASI instructors who've taught over 800,000 firefighters, park servicemen, and recreational riders how to identify and manage risks as a public service. Most ATV manufacturers will reimburse riders for passing this safety course, and some offer incentives up to $100.
Stretching is the simplest way to manage the risk of soreness or injury caused by riding. Steve insisted we all loosen up, because he knew we weren’t anticipating how sore we’d be at the end of the day. It’s important to stretch your legs, arms and neck, but avoid rolling your neck backwards. Start with small arm circles and gradually make bigger ones. This is good for your arms and shoulders, which you’ll be using to control machines as heavy as 800 pounds.
The primary way to reduce risk, besides being sober of course, is to wear the proper gear. Protective gloves, a DOT approved helmet, over-ankle boots, and goggles that fit are essential. ASI requires long pants and sleeves as well. Steve says some form of leg and arm protection is better than nothing–you can’t argue with that.
ASI uses the acronym BONEC to start the ATVs. Release the parking brake, turn your fuel cap to on, make sure your transmission’s in neutral, put the engine switch on run or on, and choke the engine if it’s not automatic. If your ATV is automatic, simply put it in gear. ASI teaches hand signals for safe communication. Raising your left hand indicates your engine is running and you’re ready to roll.
An aggressive posture is important for maintaining control of the vehicle. Keep your knees in and elbows up. Shift your body weight with each turn. Most importantly, keep your eyes ahead, not down.
ATVs are rider-active, which is important to remember and can prevent thousands of deaths. This move’s called SOS. Technically that means, “seat over seat,” but I prefer “Scoot over sucker,” which is Steve’s terminology. When making a sharp turn you have to lift your seat over the seat. Your hind parts move with your arms and eyes, preventing tipping. Our course included weaving, figure eights and tight circles to make this a habit.
The unpredictability of nature is bound to create obstacles that require quick, sharp turns. Not only do you need to scoot your seat, you should thrust the throttle as you come out of the turn. This brings the tail of the ATV around and again, prevents tipping.
When swerving to a sudden stop, use both the back and front brakes. Remember SOS then square up the handlebars when you brake. Keep your eyes on the direction your heading, and be aware of your surroundings, especially other drivers.
Practicing driving over obstacles was exciting, but can be tricky in real scenarios. When you see an obstacle ahead, accelerate as you approach, thrust the throttle as you come in contact, and stand as you ride over. Always keep your feet on the footrests and release the throttle after passing over the obstacle. These machines can conquer a lot, but be careful of sharp objects that can damage the tires.
Usually you shift your weight towards each turn, but with inclines you always lean uphill. If you see a hill ahead, accelerate early as you approach, stand when you reach the hill and lean forward over the handlebars. Don’t slow down. If the ATV is going backwards make a U-turn still leaning uphill. To descend downhill, sit and lean back on the seat, which again is uphill.
As with any vehicle, it’s best to ensure safety before riding. ASI teaches a TCLOC scan: check the tires and wheels, controls and cables, lights and electronics, oil and fuel, chain and drive shaft chassis. Jun encouraged preparing by packing extra fuel, a first aid kit and tools just in case.
ASI uses another acronym for making decisions about each riding trail, but the process is pretty simple. SIPDE stands for scan, identify, predict, decide and execute. Before any ride it’s vital to look around the area, be aware of your surroundings, and prepare for possible risks. This is the time to remember to tread lightly. ASI emphasizes that unsafe riders are the reason riding is increasingly restrictive. Knowing where riding is legal, respecting the environment, and staying on trails is the only way to help the sport thrive.